How is voyeurism displayed in Psycho? (FILM TEXT) Essay Example

How Voyeurism is displayed in Psycho (Film Text)


Voyeurism refers to the sexual interest in or practice of spying on other individuals when they are engaging in intimate behaviors like sex, undressing, or other intimate acts. The voyeur derives sexual satisfaction from observing sexual acts of others and looking at genital organs or naked bodies of other people and normally hides from the view of other people (Dancyger 2002, Pg 3-5). This essay will focus on how voyeurism is used in the film adaptation of Psycho.

The object of voyeurism observes an unsuspecting people who are naked, are undressing or engaging in sexual activities. Normally, the individual being watched is a stranger to the voyeur. The act of observing is done in order to achieve sexual satisfaction and the voyeur does not in most cases aim at having sexual contact or sex with the individual being watched but normally has a fantasy of having sex with the individual being watched and actually the fantasy is rarely achieved (Allen 2000, Pg 2).

Voyeurism can be seen in Psycho in several scenes. One scene is in the shower where Marion gets back to her compartment to bath and Norman in the parlor listens to the walls in order to hear Marion showering. Norman goes ahead and removes one of the naked paintings from the clasp which reveals a hole on the wall with a peephole that was bright enough for someone to peep and see through. In order for Norman to see Marion naked while taking a shower, he leans down and peeps at Marion through the hole. When the angle of the camera tilts from Norman’s position, he is able to see Marion undress to her bra and get out of the bathroom. Norman continues to enjoy watching Marion when Marion removes her underwear and becomes completely nude. This is an extremely voyeuristic scene (Stephen 1990, Pg 8).

Another voyeurism scene is where Norman is within a holding room and Norman is still in a daze. The audience is able to listen to the Marion’s voice through Norman when the camera slowly zooms on the face of Norman indicating a voyeuristic view of the police as well as the audience observing Normal through the door’s peephole. In the Psycho film, the audience is sexually positioned via the eyes of Norman who keeps on being voyeuristic. This is clearly illustrated in the shower scene when the audience acquires the Voyeur’s (Norman) point of view. Most of camera shots that are voyeuristic show Marion in her underwear, in the opening scene within the hotel, in her bedroom when she stole the money and also during the bathing scene. The audience just like Norman watches Marion, unseen, as the audience peeps through the holes together with Norman. Specifically, Hitchcock’s creativity of camera shots is what sets the Psycho film as being a good example of a voyeurism film (Branigan 1992, Pg 25-26).

Basically, this film is a psychological thriller that based its construction on voyeurism where the women in the film are placed under constant observation, which a way of controlling the woman (Hayward 2000 Pg 200). Therefore, through voyeurism, the woman is objectified using the gaze, meaning the woman is voyeuristically positioned as an object of observation and thus containable, safe. The man gaze investigates the woman and the woman cannot return the gaze because she is not aware that she is being observed and is not subject. The woman is the object within the mirror that underpins and validates the subjectivity of the man. On the other hand, the man in acknowledging his subjectivity affirms his superiority (Hayward 2000, Pg 262).

Voyeurism in this film stresses the concept of a naturally stable male subjectivity and also confirms the naturalness of the patriarchal order where the female is expected to always submit through her compliance, and obviously, to which the male submits through his activity (Hayward 2000, Pg 263).

In the Psycho film, voyeurism in regard to male subjectivity and female submissiveness is displayed where Marion is being watched before she even arrives at the Bates Motel and queried for a long time and then followed until she reaches Los Angeles by a very meticulous police who spends the night in Marion’s car on the side of a remote desert road. The scenes in Psycho that involve the policeman are practically apparent in their voyeuristic aspects, where the policeman carefully watches Marion from across the street as Marion swiftly purchases an old car. After Marion arrives at Bates Motel, she is placed under continuous male surveillance from the time she is given the room key to during the time when she is taking her fateful bath. In addition, there is no time that Marion really gets to be alone because Norman is nearly always around her, either within the room or observing her from the office. Marion is even being observed within the parlor by Norman as well as his prized stuffed birds. When Marion leaves the parlor Norman keeps watching her through the peep hole within the wall, the camera zooming in on his eye. This scene matches Hayward’s (2000 Pg 200) argument that Psycho film bases voyeurism on placing women under constant observation, which a way of controlling women and in this case Marion was placed under constant observation which was a way of controlling her actions. Marion was objectified using Norman’s gaze which implies that she was voyeuristically placed as an object of investigation. Norman gaze kept on investigating Marion and Marion was not able o return the gaze because she was not aware that she was being watched and she was not the subject but the object (Hayward 2000, Pg 262).

The audience is able to see voyeurism when Norman peeps through the peephole while in his office and Marion is seen undressing. This an act that makes the audience wonder the reason behind Norman’s act and what he is planning for Marion and it is at the end of the film show that the audience discovers that Norman has voyeurism which is a mental disorder and his act of looking through the peephole may have connection to what he witnessed in the past, for instance he saw his mother naked or witnessed a sexual act in his early life (Hitchcock 1960). Norman psychological act of voyeurism indicates that there is something wrong with him, a person who initially is depicted as a clean cut person. For instance, he kills women using a phallic object that can be connected to a childhood experience (he might have even peeped his mother dressing (voyeurism) when young) and his act of killing can be connected to the fact that the mental disorder (voyeurism) makes him to only want to have single feminine figure in his life, and that is his mother. In Norman’s mind, he kills like his mother is the jealous person and not him while in reality it is him who cannot stand not being the center of his mother’s life. The same voyeurism (mental disorder) is the one that makes him kill the lover of his mother and in reality he believes he is in love with his mother (Allen 2000, Pg 4-6) According to Laura (Pg14), Psycho subjective camera is used from the male’s viewpoint to draw the audience deeply into the male’s position making the audience share the male’s uneasy gaze. Therefore, the audience is absorbed in a voyeuristic incident in the scene. In Norman’s point of view, the audience becomes an objectifying voyeur. Norman who dresses as his late mother slithers in the bathroom of Marion while she is bathing and in this again the female is again objectified as a protagonist by being presented as nude and highly susceptible, constantly stabs and kills her. Once again, the camera takes the Norman’s position when he stabs powerless Marion, which blurs the line between the spectators and the character. After Marion dies, the camera once again zooms in her lifeless eye, which furthers the concept of the gaze (
.Hitchcock, 1960).


Voyeurism and being observed is carried throughout the film, where Norman observes and investigates Marion’s movements throughout the film. Again, voyeurism is displayed when Normal secretly watches Marion as she bathes and undresses through the peephole and the voyeurism is carried on through the rest of the film after Marion is killed. After Marion’s murder, Norman’s gaze does not work on similar psychological level, but his voyeurism operates as a cinematic terror mechanism and the audience takes on voyeurism. In conclusion, Norman’s gaze breeds desire for Marion through construction of Marion as a sexual temptress (object), which ultimately the cause of Marion’s death under the male’s (Norman) subjectivity.

Cited Works

Allen, Richard. Hitchcock’s romantic irony. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Branigan, E. Narrative and the Comprehension of Film. London & New York, Routledge, 1992.

Dancyger, Ken. The Technique of Film and Video Editing: History, Theory, and Practice. New York: Focal Press, 2002.

Hayward, Susan. «Voyeurism/fetishism.» Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2000. Hitchcock Alfred. Psycho. 1960.

Laura Mulvey. «Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.» 1975. Feminism and Film Theory. Ed. Constance Penley. New York: Routledge, 1988.

Stephen Rebello. Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. Sydney:Norton, 1990.